Sweden, fearing Russian aggression, is bringing back the draft

Swedish military patrol outside Visby, island of Gotland.
Swedish military patrol outside Visby, island of Gotland.
Image: Reuters/TT News Agency
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Sweden has reinstated the military draft, citing Russian military activity and recruitment issues.

Under the new rules (paywall), around 13,000 young people (born after 1999) will be called in for enrollment and 4,000 of those will be selected for military service each year starting in 2018. The government will also accept volunteers and model their new recruitment system on Norway, which also has a mix of volunteers and conscripts.

The government abolished military conscription seven years ago, when only men were eligible. Sweden was apart of a trend in Europe to do so; France, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands abolished the draft in the 1990s and Germany followed suit in 2011. But growing tensions in the Baltic has led Sweden to change tactics.

The traditionally neutral country is not part of NATO, but has drawn closer to the alliance (paywall) in recent years, while also beefing up its homeland defense. Sweden’s greater cooperation with NATO is partly in response to Russia building its military capabilities in the region. Russian jets have frequently infringed on Swedish airspace, much to the ire of the Swedish government, which has grown increasingly worried about Russian espionage activity in the country. In January, an influential Swedish think tank accused Russia of spreading fake news in Sweden as part of a coordinated campaign to influence public opinion.

Since abolishing military service, Sweden has struggled to recruit soldiers. The military needs to recruit over 1,000 more soldiers (paywall) than the army has managed to recruit each year since Sweden abolished the draft. Sweden has been able to use the Home Guard, its reservist force, to fill in the gaps. But that’s a temporary solution; the Home Guard’s numbers will also drop if new recruits don’t replace Swedes who are retiring.

Last month, the Swedish army requested billions more (paywall) in defense funding to boost equipment and staff members over the next decade. Sweden’s expansion of its military operation comes as Europe continues its standoff with US president Donald Trump, who is asking allies to spend more on defense.